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Volkskrant, Nov 21, 2012: 'We will only lose privacy'

Four questions on Dna testing 
Thanks to dna research, the Vaatstra case seems to have finally been solved. But to what extent does this method of investigation affect our right to privacy?

What is possible in detection?

The investigative capabilities of the police and judiciary grow along with the development of technology. The Netherlands leads the way: nowhere in the world are so many citizens bugged. Another example is the proposal by State Secretary for Justice Teeven (VVD), who wants investigation services to be able to 'hack back'.

The same applies to dna testing. Since researchers discovered this method in the 1980s, dna can be used to search for an offender with very few traces. Since 1997, dna profiles of convicted persons, victims and suspects have been stored at the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI). The database now contains more than 150 thousand profiles, up from 50 thousand in 2010.

Why are more and more people's dna being stored?

More and more groups have been required to donate dna in recent years. For instance, from April this year, underage victims have to donate cheek swabs for tracing the perpetrators. At the same time, the dna kinship investigation used in the Vaatstra case was also made legal. This allows the perpetrator to be traced through the dna of family members.

In recent years, there have been increasing proposals to expand the dna database. In October, for instance, minister Edith Schippers wanted the judiciary to have access to the dna stored in hospitals for scientific research.

'Privacy is eroding, being eroded by such proposals,' says Professor of Regulation of Technology Bert-Jaap Koops of Tilburg University. 'New technologies for detection are increasingly being allowed. And legislators go along with this very easily.' 

Will new detection techniques affect our privacy?

According to Professor Koops, it is. 'That development cannot be reversed. New technologies cause a logical shift in boundaries. Ten years ago, it was unimaginable that everything was being filmed. The same goes for the situation ten years from now, we will only lose privacy.'

A next step could be a national dna database, according to Koops. Then every Dutch citizen would have to donate dna. 'It could go two ways. Either society says that the Vaatstra case, and possible subsequent breakthroughs, have demonstrated the usefulness of such a database. Or society says: apparently not everyone needs to hand in dna, it can also be done on a voluntary basis.'

What are the pros and cons of a national dna database?

The success in the Vaatstra case has reignited the debate. In 2011, chief of police Frank Paauw of the Rotterdam-Rijnmond police also argued for a national database. His argument is that of the proponents: those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.

Privacy is precisely security, opponents believe. 'That is the personal security of the individual against a government,' says Vincent Böhre of the foundation Privacy First. 'A national database would imply that the government no longer trusts its own citizens and sees every Dutch citizen as a potential suspect.'

According to Böhre, the limit has been reached with the kinship investigation in the Vaatstra case. 'That's the dilemma: now a perpetrator finally seems to have been caught. I am happy about that. But obligation must never be there. That is at odds with the classic legal principle that no one has to testify against themselves.'"

Source: Volkskrant 21 November 2012, p. 5. Click HERE for the version on